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A question of authority

February 2007 | by Timothy Alford

First editions are often sought after. I do not have a copy of Evangelical Times for February 1967 when it first appeared, but I value the memory of it – because its front page reported a serious development in southeast London where I then ministered.


Woolwich became notorious for the book Honest to God written by its Anglican bishop, which blatantly asserted that ‘God is dead’. This publication was ephemeral but was sadly typical of the error and confusion in the diocese – where clerics advised the Greater London Council that an ecumenical centre for Christian worship should be planned for the new housing development at Thamesmead. No sites were to be allocated for separate churches.

Protest rally

Evangelicals reacted strongly, and a protest rally was convened in the church where I ministered. About a thousand people were addressed by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones who exposed the dangers of ecumenism and stressed the need for Evangelicals to stand together. Objections were subsequently put to the GLC and independent sites became available.


The coverage given to all this by ET was an auspicious beginning to a new and valuable resource for those who are committed to the gospel. I am grateful that it continues to be so.


His warnings and appeal received a mixed response, but they are still relevant. Not all that has since happened within evangelicalism reflects his refusal to compromise ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’. As for evangelical unity, it appears that evangelicalism is now more divided than ever.

Inclination replaces revelation

The term ‘Evangelical’ no longer applies exclusively to those who recognise the authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. Equal credence is given to the authority of reason, church tradition, or experience.


Where this happens, church life degenerates into man-centred activity. Church is all about having a good time (they say), so worship and Christian service are determined by personal preferences. Inclination rather than revelation plots the course.


Some no longer see themselves as ‘people of the Book’. Fewer people take a Bible with them to worship services or open one during the public reading of Scripture. Preachers are sometimes to blame by their failure to invite their hearers to examine biblical references.


Where this shift from the centrality of the Word occurs it leads to ignorance of the truth and susceptibility to false teaching. It arrests genuine Christian experience and produces what is spurious and shallow.

Revitalisation

Fortunately, there is another side to this picture. We see Evangelical churches which are thriving through biblical preaching and practice. This anniversary issue of ET is a good place to acknowledge the part played by evangelical publishers in this.


Through a phenomenal increase of good Christian literature they are providing excellent resources for the whole church. The impact is observable in the revitalisation of the pulpit and the pew – where pastors and people resemble those described in Psalm 1, whose delight is in the law of the Lord.


It really is heartening to see churches where biblical Christianity relates meaningfully to the 21st century and where growth is not at the expense of depth.

Something unreal

Sadly, not all who have good books know how to use them. This is serious when preachers become academically doctrinal and fail to reproduce the fruits of their study in their own style and idiom.


Anyone anointed by the Holy Spirit has no need to assume another personality in the pulpit, or attempt to exercise the gifts God gave to somebody else! For example, admiration of the Puritans and their teaching is entirely worthy, but these noble people cannot be cloned.


There is something unreal about the preacher who becomes an actor – loving to preach rather than loving his people. He cannot connect with a congregation which lives in the real world.

Uphill struggle

Some churches are dying not because the preaching is heretical but because it is incomprehensible – and lacks the passion of the Spirit who floods the mind with the truth and the preacher’s heart with divine love for others.


More of this love is sorely needed among us. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ echoing call for evangelical unity seems to be falling on deaf ears, even though Affinity (the birth-child of the British Evangelical Council) and other agencies pursue the objective.


What an uphill struggle they face in trying to bring us together! Our inbuilt suspicions, denominational prejudices, tunnel vision and misguided ambitions encourage a quarrelsome and divisive spirit.


Divided churches whose ‘strength’ lies in harsh judgments and critical sniping at others will never impact our dying world with the breathtaking message of divine love and peace through Christ alone.


If I didn’t have an eschatology of victory, the future would seem bleak. But the Lord will both build his church and return to perfect it. ‘Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus’.